NEW YORK - Oil prices broke through the $70-per-barrel barrier during yesterday's trading - and a growing number of forecasters is expecting a continued upward swing.

By the end of the session, benchmark crude for July delivery backed off its high for the day of $70.32 to finish at $68.44 a barrel, down 37 cents, on the New York Mercantile Exchange. But for the week, crude rose $2.12.

Oil prices have been soaring for months despite a massive surplus of petroleum and natural gas. A large amount of speculative money has flowed into the markets, according to government reports, potentially taking advantage of a weak U.S. currency.

Surging energy prices appear to be outpacing an economic recovery for now, and there are concerns that consumers may pull back spending further, especially with retail gasoline nearing the $3 mark.

"There's this feeling of 'Here we go again' with what happened last year," said Tom Kloza, publisher and chief oil analyst at Oil Price Information Service. "It hurts discretional spending. It leaves people to think about not taking those summer vacations."

Gasoline prices nationwide climbed 2 cents yesterday to their highest in more than seven months, reaching an average of $2.592 a gallon, according to the auto club AAA, Wright Express, and Oil Price Information Service.

A gallon of gas costs 48.2 cents more than it did a month ago, but it's $1.397 cheaper than last year.